IBM Sets Its Sights on SMBs with New Blade

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In the growing field of blade offerings, IBM is looking to capture a segment of the market that has been underserved by IT vendors.

IBM wants small and midsized businesses to know that blade servers are an option for their IT infrastructure, too.

In a field that has grown more important to Big Blue and its main OEM rivals in the past five years, IBM announced June 13 that it will offer a new BladeCenter system specifically designed for small businesses.

While blade servers have come into the market almost exclusively designed for large and midsize enterprises, IBM's BladeCenter S system looks to expand the company's reach to a much broader audience with a six-blade chassis system as well as on-board storage and switch options.

The new blade, which will not arrive until the fourth quarter of 2007, can run on standard 110-volt or 220-volt power supplies, which gives small businesses the option of plugging the system into a standard wall socket. The system also offers management tools for "express" installations, said Jim Gargan, vice president and business line executive for IBM's System x.

"Small business owners now have a terrific array of applications that they want to take advantage of, and more and more customers want to gain a competitive edge," said Alex Yost, a vice president with IBM's BladeCenter. "For a lot of these businesses, the problems are with multiple architectures, servers, switches and other management headaches. Then there's the issue of power and cooling. In a way, there's a new market for these businesses, and addressing these issues makes a lot of sense for IBM and for our customers."

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In the blade market, which research firm IDC valued at $768 million for the first quarter of this year, IBM, headquartered in Armonk, N.Y., has been in fierce competition with its main rival Hewlett-Packard and that company's own c-Class BladeSystem servers. Between them, IBM and HP control about 75 percent of the blade market, according to a May 23 IDC report.

The blade market became even a little more competitive in the past two weeks when Sun Microsystems unveiled its own Sun Blade 6000 Modular System June 6. These systems offer a choice of Intel, Advanced Micro Devices or UltraSPARC processors in the same chassis.

Charles King, an analyst with Pund-IT Research, said the market will become even more dynamic later this year when Dell offers a new blade architecture of its own.

As for the new BladeCenter S system, King said that while IBM, HP and Dell have all been chasing after SMB customers, Big Blue is now the first vendor to offer a blade specifically designed to meet this particular market.

"With a feature like being able to take it out of the box and a plug it into the wall, it sounds mundane, but this is a concern for small businesses that have been dealing with conventional servers and do not have the infrastructure set up to deal with more electrical usage," King said. "Cost means a lot to these smaller businesses."

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In addition to SMBs, King suspects that IBM has kept its traditional enterprise customers in mind. For example, a large bank or financial firm could configure this blade system and then ship it to a remote office or site, where a non-IT worker can simply plug the system into the wall socket and connect it to the network through an Ethernet port.

"Overall, IBM with BladeCenter is really offering a very compelling architecture, and they support a lot of processors," King said. "Now, IBM can say they have offerings ranging from the low end to the high end of the market."

Devon Health Services has been beta testing the new IBM blade for several months, said Charles Falcone, the King of Prussia, Pa., company's president. (IBM also has a development relationship with Devon IT, a sister company to Devon Health.)

With about 120 employees but complex IT needs, Falcone said his company was looking for a way to cut down on power and cooling expenses. After installing a BladeCenter S system, he said his IT department was able to eliminate about 30 rack-mounted servers and move several critical applications, including Microsoft Exchange Server and CRM (customer relationship management) software, onto the IBM blades.

"We never really considered [blades] before, and we were not aware that they could help us," Falcone told eWEEK. "We had been going with industry-standard servers for years to support our existing applications, and we went with that logic for years. We just kept adding servers, which added to our power problems until we discovered the blades."

While IBM executives did not offer specific details about the new BladeCenter S system during June 13's introduction, these blades servers will support both Intel and AMD processors as well as IBM's own Power processor architecture. Users can also select from hard disk drives directly mounted on the blades or from 3.5-inch drives that are housed in side-car enclosures.

The new blades will also allow customers to deploy diskless blades that are connected to an external DS3200 SAS (serial-attached SCSI) disk array through an SAS switch. This DS3200 provides for up to 48 SAS drives with the capacity to hold more than 14TB of data.

IBM did not offer a specific starting price for the BladeCenter S system, nor did the company announce a specific launch date.

Check out eWEEK.com's for the latest news, views and analysis on servers, switches and networking protocols for the enterprise and small businesses.

This article was originally published on 2007-06-14
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